Vladimir A. Kozlov. Mass Uprisings in the USSR: Protest and Rebellion in the Post-Stalin Years. Armonk and London: M.E. Sharpe, 2002. xix + 351 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7656-0668-6; $90.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7656-0667-9.
Reviewed by David L. Ruffley (Department of History, Colorado College)
Published on H-Russia (February, 2004)
"Symbiotic Signals?" Mass Uprisings after StalinSo long as the Soviet people maintained a fundamentalbelief in the ideals of socialism, they staged massuprisings in protest against the "flawed" socialistreality they witnessed about them. When their communistideals were "squeezed out of mass consciousness by theconformism, consumerism and individualism of the Brezhnevera" (pp. 313-314), the people stopped believing and thedisorders stopped. This is the fundamental thesis Kozlovasserts in _Mass Uprisings in the USSR_.
Long on narrative and short on analysis, Kozlov's workserves as a richly documented chronicle of disturbancesstaged by Soviet citizens to express their discontent.Kozlov organizes his book into three parts. The firstseven chapters focus on the period from 1953 to 1960 whendestalinization caused uncertainty and unrest. Chapters8-14 describe the 1961-1964 period, when Khrushchev'serratic reforms created general instability and even aunique type of breeding ground for riots that Kolov terms"Virgin Lands Syndrome." This syndrome was the volatilecombination of young dislocated workers being sent to workin undeveloped regions and primitive living conditions.Dissatisfaction and boredom frequently provided thetension that would lead to disorders. Two chapters inthis second section focus upon the "unique" 1962 riots inNovocherkassk (its "unique" nature is discussed below).Finally, Kozlov provides a single short chapter on theperiod from Brezhnev's accession to the 1985 arrival ofMikhail Gorbachev. Each chapter describes in detail theonset, evolution, and resolution of a particular uprising,or of a closely related series of uprisings.
Kozlov contends that both the traditional Western and theCommunist views of uprisings in the USSR are flawed. TheWestern perspective tends to emphasize uprisings assymptoms of anti-regime behavior, while Soviet Communiststended to stress the involvement of criminal elements inmisleading naïve citizens. Kozlov believes the truth tolie in between these perspectives. He says that Sovietcitizens arose when ethnic tension, frustration withliving conditions, police heavy-handedness or officialincompetence disrupted the order of daily life. Suchtensions led to incidents that sparked disorder (fights,public drunkenness, etc.). These disorders provided anopportunity for frustrated citizens to vent frustrationsin riots, usually fueled by rumors. Malcontents and"hooligans" often exacerbated such disruptions for theirown gain, or to settle scores with officials. Kozlovemphasizes that the "mass uprisings" of his study were notthe anti-regime riots they were often depicted to be inthe West. Instead, most of the uprisings featured somepublic adoption of the myths and ideas of official Sovietideology. Kozlov says that the use of official slogansduring disorders supports the notion that the Sovietpeople believed in the basic tenets of Marxism/Leninism,but were frustrated at the "corrupted" version ofsocialism that they saw in the reality of their dailylives. Kozlov does not deliver any deeper analysis ofthis issue. Readers familiar with James C. Scott'sconcept of public and private "transcripts" in relationsbetween dominant and subordinate groups will find thisissue tantalizing, and simultaneously find Kozlov's lackof detailed analysis to be frustrating.
Thanks to meticulous archival research (more than 90percent of his citations are from the State Archive of theRussian Federation-GARF), Kozlov presents the names,socioeconomic backgrounds, and specific activities of"ringleaders," police, soldiers, and officials involved.He uses these chronicles to develop a model of the"typical" uprising. Popular discontent creates thecontext in which a pivotal event (e.g. the arrest of analleged criminal or AWOL soldier, perceived mistreatmentof a drunken citizen, or ethnic violence) generates openhostility, normally directed towards the police asrepresentatives of "flawed" Soviet socialism. Thathostility is then manipulated by persons antagonistictoward the regime (former GULAG inmates, aggrieved warveterans, criminals, and "hooligans") who consistentlyserve as catalysts in the outbreak of mass disturbances.Actions by police and communist officials then eitherexacerbate the situation or lead to its resolution.
Kozlov marshals significant evidence in support of this"model" of confrontation. In particular, his detailedchronologies underscore his assertion that instigators ofviolent behavior were "people in whom such [social]constraints had already shut down" (p. 27). In everyuprising, Kozlov provides specific evidence to support the"catalytic" role of such instigators. Most participantsin uprisings knew nothing of this "catalytic" role, oranything at all about these criminal elements, but Kozlovsuccessfully establishes the significant role of these fewindividuals. This feat could be the work's mostsignificant contribution, but it simultaneously highlightsa potential weakness. Much of Kozlov's source material istaken from police reports, KGB assessments, and trialdocuments. Given the focus of police and securityagencies (both Soviet and others) on finding criminals, itis not surprising that the documents those agenciesproduce emphasize the role of criminals. Therefore, it isdifficult to assess whether the criminal element,certainly prominent in Kozlov's sources, was in fact asprominent in these events as his sources assert they were.Kozlov fails to engage in any thorough source criticism ofhis archival findings, focusing in his chaptersexclusively upon the sequence of events in each rising,leaving source criticism and analysis for others.
Several of Kozlov's chapters deserve specific discussion.Chapter 4 focuses upon a 1958 riot in Grozny. Kozlovconsiders this event significant because its nature andintensity led to a special Central Committee plenum todiscuss mass uprisings that shaped future policy. But healso speculates that local Russian officials or KGBpersonnel may have taken advantage of the disorder inGrozny "for purposes of provocation" (p. 103). Hesupports this contention with details concerning thesudden appearance of machine-printed leaflets and carsthat transported workers to the regional party building.Kozlov further notes that no satisfactory explanation forthe origin of the leaflets or automobiles may be found inrecords of the KGB investigation. Kozlov does not say so,but the implications of this potential "provocation" arechilling in light of today's allegations of officialconspiracy in the 1999 apartment building explosions inMoscow or the 2002 theater hostage situation, both ofwhich the regime attributes to Chechen separatists.
Chapters 12 and 13 are devoted to Novocherkassk, whichKozlov describes as unique because of the truly massnature of the protest against price increases and wagerestrictions that prompted the revolt and the directinvolvement, for the first time, of Presidium-levelofficials in suppressing it. Kozlov contends thatmishandling of the situation by those officials turned therising from a typical protest against economic conditionsinto a politically oriented event. Particularly valuableare Kozlov's assertions that the regime's successful"quarantine" of information about Novocherkassk and itsprosecution of a limited number of "scapegoats" minimizedthe potential for similar risings elsewhere, allowed mostmainstream participants to escape, and set the stage forthe accommodation between state and people that wouldcharacterize the Brezhnev era (pp. 276-287).
Kozlov's work provides significant evidence to support hisgeneral notion that Soviet citizens stopped believing thatthey were building a genuinely socialist society by theearly 1960's. Their calls for implementation of "genuine"socialism and complaints about Khrushchev and other"corrupt" Soviet leaders as failing to build "true"socialism reflected the fact that their everyday realitystood in stark contrast to the regime's promises andrhetoric. While this infamous "gap between words and deeds"is more commonly associated with the Brezhnev era, itclearly resonated in the slogans and banners used by therioters that Kozlov describes. In addition, Kozlovprovides descriptions of ethnic-based conflicts inChechnia, Georgia, and Central Asia that foreshadow therole of ethnic nationalism in the demise of the USSR after1985. His descriptions and details are the book'sstrongest points. His failure to go beyond descriptionsmay be its weakest.
Kozlov only briefly mentions the continuity of his post-Stalin risings with such pivotal Russian events as BloodySunday 1905 or the traditional Russian petitions to the"good Tsar" to redress grievances caused by "bad"officials. He often describes specific rumors that servedto exacerbate tensions in the risings without anydiscussion of the general role of rumors in such events.Likewise, Kozlov's treatment of society after Khrushchevis minimal. He sticks to his basic assertion that peoplestopped protesting when they stopped believing, contentinstead to settle into complacency and the pursuit of suchmaterial goods and affluence as the Brezhnev era allowed.He implies that such was the conscious policy of theBrezhnev regime, but does not examine this issue in detail.In fairness to Kozlov, the Brezhnev-era social contract isbeyond the scope of his study. Nevertheless, such lack ofanalysis makes this book most suitable only for advancedstudents or scholars of Russian society. Undergraduatesor the general reader may find aspects of the stories inKozlov to be interesting, but the simple chronology ofrising after rising can degenerate into a tedioussuccession of meaningless names and places in the absenceof contextual discussion. No maps are included, so evensome of the cities where uprisings occurred, and whosenames have subsequently changed, remain obscure to generalreaders. Finally, the book includes no bibliography.Kozlov's principle focus is on archival sources, but hedoes mention relevant works in his introduction thatshould be listed in a bibliography for the work to be moreaccessible to students.
Nevertheless, Kozlov's book makes a positive and valuablecontribution to exposing some of the traditional "blankspots" in postwar Soviet history, adding to the process offleshing out the developing mosaic that is ourunderstanding of this pivotal period.
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David L. Ruffley. Review of Kozlov, Vladimir A., Mass Uprisings in the USSR: Protest and Rebellion in the Post-Stalin Years.
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